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RFID-enabled Handheld Helps Nurses Verify Meds

Caregivers at St. Clair Hospital are using Socket Mobile's new SoMo 650 RFID-enabled handheld to ensure they administer the right medications to patients.
By Beth Bacheldor
The nurse reads the RFID tag in the patient's wristband, and the tag's unique ID number is cross-referenced with the patient information in a back-end database. Not only does patient information pop up on the SoMo 650's display screen, but also a picture of the patient, which was taken when the patient was admitted.

The device records the date and time the tags and bar codes are read, then wirelessly sends all the data (bar codes, RFID tag numbers and timestamp) to the database, where it is compared with the doctor's latest orders. Voice commands on the SoMo 650 announce, "Patient identification confirmed," or, in the case of discrepancies, "Access denied." In addition, any new medication orders, order changes or cancellations are automatically downloaded so nurses can learn about them immediately.

"The SoMo 650 is ruggedized," Ague says, "so if a nurse drops the device, it isn't ruined. And so far in our tests of the initial version, the network has stayed up and nurses haven't been dropped." The new RFID capabilities are also proving useful, he adds. "With the bar code, you had to twist the wristband until [the] bar code was facing you, then you had to aim the scanner, and if the badge wasn't flat, maybe you wouldn't get a good scan."

In addition, the SoMo 650 features action buttons on either side, which Ague says makes the device easy to use for both left-handed and right-handed caregivers. At the request of St. Clair Hospital, which wanted a way to prevent handhelds from spreading bacterial infections from patient to patient, Socket Mobile is now developing a disposable, plastic sleeve that can fit over the SoMo 650.

St. Clair Hospital has ordered 120 of the RFID-enabled SoMo 650s, and is now rolling them out throughout its nursing staff. The number of RFID badges and wristbands the organization will ultimately use has not yet been determined, but Ague says that even if all 2,000 staff members and every patient had tags, the cost would "be negligible for a $185 million-a-year business like ours." And, he says, the expected benefits are great. For now, the RFID tags provide positive patient identification, but they could also be used for other applications, including lab tests, X-rays and patient tracking.

The SoMo 650 weighs 6.3 oz. and runs the Windows Mobile 5.0 Professional operating system. It includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, an Intel 624 MHz processor, a display with 320-by-240-pixel resolution, and a stylus for input. Available now, the SoMo 650 starts at a price of $695 per unit.

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